Imagine coming back to the farm where you grew up only to discover your mother has been secretly cloning dinosaurs in the barn.
OK, so maybe the details aren't exactly the same, but when Rachael Jones came home to visit her mother after going away to college, she made a similar discovery. Sometimes, your parents have interests they put on hold in order to raise their children.
In Jones' case, her mother studied art, and Jones returned to find a canvas and an exquisite painting. But the experience was enough to inspire a story that was recently named a winner in the Writers of the Future contest, which was established by L. Ron Hubbard.
"There are a lot of contests out there, but not that many are reputable," she says, noting it's not unusual for a contest to charge a reading fee. "I entered last October, and it was one of my favorite stories."
Jones, who is pursuing a master's in speech pathology, is a relative newcomer to the world of short story writing. This was her first time entering the contest, and she's only been writing stories for a few years. She graduated from UGA with a degree in English in 2007.
Jones said she received a call this past spring that she was a finalist. Then, a few weeks ago, she received word that she is one of this year's three winners. As part of the prize package, Jones gets a cash prize, a trip to Hollywood for a weeklong writers' workshop, and tickets to the gala awards event. Entries come from around the world, and winners are published in an annual anthology.
Her winning story is in honor of her mom, she says. In the tale, a daughter comes back home to try and convince her mother to sell the family farm — until she learns about the secret project in the barn.
"It's about that moment when you realize your parents had a life before you," Jones says. "She and her mom decide they are going to stay, to work together to clone the dinosaurs."
But not all of Jones' characters are discovering dinosaurs in the barn. Instead, Jones often writes stories that blend her two passions — speech pathology and literacy —and writes about characters with disabilities.
These types of role models are often lacking in mainstream literature.
"I want people who have speech disorders or other disabilities to have a bigger vision of their lives," she says. "We have a lot of problems with perceiving people with disabilities, especially speech and learning disorders."
As it turns out, literacy and speech pathology naturally overlap. One of the newest areas of practice in speech-language pathology, Jones says, is in literacy. For example, high school English teachers typically specialize in higher-level literacy skills, rather than more basic literacy skills that most kids master in elementary school. Recently, speech-language pathologists are starting to step in and help in secondary school settings when a child needs that extra support.
"Someone pointed me to speech-language pathology because I also have a background in languages," says Jones, who was born in Germany and raised in Army bases around the world. "I said, 'This is a field where I can do a lot of good.'"